Are Pink Slips Better Than Flu Shots? The Effects of Employment on Influenza Rates

Sara Markowitz, Erik Nesson, Joshua Robinson

NBER Working Paper No. 15796
Issued in March 2010
NBER Program(s):Health Economics, Labor Studies

The seasonal influenza virus afflicts between five and twenty percent of the U.S. population each year, imposing significant costs on those who fall ill, their families, employers, and the health care system. The flu is transmitted via droplet spread or close contact, and certain environments, such as schools or offices, promote transmission. In this paper, we examine whether increases in labor market activities are associated with an increased incidence of the flu. Flu data come from the Centers for Disease Control. We check the robustness of our results using unique data from Google Flu Trends. Using a first-difference two stage least squares estimation approach, we find that a one percentage point increase in the employment rate increases the number of influenza related doctor visits by about 8.1 additional flu-related doctor visits per 1000 doctor visits for all causes. To put this in perspective, on average, 33 additional people out of every 100,000 new employees will have a flu-related doctor visit. The results are robust across several specifications.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15796

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